National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Voninga Maritze envisions himself as being one of South Africa’s top health professionals specialising in neurology or cardiovascular treatment depending on the area of need at that time and practising on a global scale as well as serving his community in the Mpumalanga province.

Voninga is studying medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He matriculated at Acorn to Oaks Comprehensive High School in Acornhoek in Mpumalanga.

“Work hard, work smart and put in the hours”.


Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?


I am Voninga Maritze. I was born in the city of Nelspruit (Mbombela) in Mpumalanga. I was raised in the humble setting of a tranquil and mellow under-resourced village of Edingburgh, which is located in the outskirts of the Township of Thulamamashe in Mpumalanga (where my parents were also reared). I hope this brief description already paints a vivid image of the geographical environment in which I was set because of the socio-economic circumstances engendered by such a setting. As such, where I come from education is not held in the highest regard, rather it is acknowledged as another insignificant, unworthy to be attained achievement. The preferred life is the ancient routine of waking up to herd a relative’s cattle for a few pennies or being a housewife in an extended family setting specific to the women.

However, my parents rebelled against societal norms of mediocrity and became pioneers in their families to possess degrees in the educational sector. They have successfully raised me to be like-minded, in that I believe in and practice excellence. I also believe that problems are meant to be solved and that one way in which society’s problems can be solved is through excellent education. I am rather passionate about education, as I perceive it as a system by which one can acquire useful information which when put to work can yield marvellous outcomes. Throughout my academic career hitherto, I have been inspired by the following, “It is not enough to know something, you must know enough of that very thing” and hence I pursue knowledge every day with the goal of knowing a topic of interest better than I did yesterday or the day before. This, I believe has led to my personal growth as a life-long learner. This teaching emanates from my spirituality and the teachings in my faith, which teaches that God delights in concealing things and scientists delight in discovering these things. We are encouraged to lead excellent lives and be the best in everything we do, whether in morality or even in mathematics and science, both for our world and our God.

Why did you choose the course you are studying?

My desire and choice to study medicine stem from two short-lived experiences, one of which I had as a pre-schooler when I experienced love and care in the hands of a compassionate medical doctor, my Uncle, Dr Joe N Mhlanga. To briefly tell of this anecdote; I had suffered a horrible cut from an antagonistic tree branch that stood in the way of my attempt to pick a tender ripe mango from it, leaving me on the unpleasant dirt squealing in pain. Fortunately, my uncle and the rest of the family had been keeping a close eye on me and he quickly busted out his trusty first aid kit and gently attended to my wound. I am honoured to say that he was my hero from then on and above all I realised that I wanted to be that person for somebody else.

My passion for this career, however got cemented ensuing an unfortunate ordeal experienced by my mom last year in November 2022 during my final exams, when she got involved in a severe car accident. She was transported to a public hospital nearby where she tarried, joining a long queue of hurting and miserable patients who had been waiting to receive medical attention. After five long hours, she was forced to come back home, having waited in vain only to not even be attended to and slept in gruelling pain from the internal injuries suffered at the collision. In her narration of this occurrence to me, she hints that the inability of our country’s public healthcare system to provide for her is not so much a consequence of the shortage of medical staff, as she recalls watching groups and groups of healthcare workers moving to and fro in the halls within patients’ view not assisting anyone. It is, however, a result of the shortfall of compassionate and altruistic medical staff. Both in the world of mathematics and in the medical world, one makes a difference and I have resolved to be that one compassionate doctor who continually avails himself to the service of mankind within the scope of my practice. 

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Ten years from now I envision myself being one of South Africa’s top health professionals specialising in the branch of neurology or cardiovascular treatment depending on the area of need at that time, and practising on a global scale as well as serving in my community in Mpumalanga. I would also like to be a part of a tutoring programme (such as those provided by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), or SAICA [South African Institute of Chartered Accountants]) and the like which are making a huge difference in the lives of many South African National Senior Certificate (NSC) students in helping to discover and nurture the potential of young talented students in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and Innovation (STEMI) fields. I have already undertaken to start a programme of my own in my former high school which not only provides additional academic resources to help learners understand concepts in mathematics, science and accounting, but also provides mentorship to learners who need it and help them prepare for their final exams. I have implored the assistance of my school’s former top learners, who have also committed to being lifelong learners and imparting their knowledge free of charge, to set up the programme which will start in June 2023.

Why do you enjoy science and maths?

Mathematics and science are two of the most rudimentary academic disciplines of our contemporary world. They are a vital part of our daily lives seeing as we are surrounded by mathematical and scientific ideas from the break of dawn until sunset. Page 716 of the Thorndike Barnhart Dictionary, column 1 and paragraph 7 defines science as “knowledge gained by observation, proven by experimentation and demonstration, and refined by classification”. That means that science is based on proven information and not on subjective feelings, there are no intermediaries, just hard facts.

Dating back to the development of calculus by Sir Isaac Newton in the mid-1660s to the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, these discoveries have continued to pave the way for new scientific and technological breakthroughs and have revolutionised our understanding of the natural world. It is through this understanding that we are able to come up with new solutions for the prevalent problems of humanity.

Where did you complete your schooling? Tell us a bit about this school and your teachers.

I completed my secondary education at Acorn to Oaks Comprehensive High School which, being situated in the semi-rural town of Acornhoek in Bushbuckridge local municipality in Mpumalanga province, is the best in the area. It is a school venerated for many of its accolades ranging from a variety of activities such as sports to academics to science expositions and public speaking competitions., Excellence is the leitmotif. In fact, the school is driven by the motto, “Be the best you can” which further reiterates the notion of cultivating a culture of quality results.

It was recently established, no longer than a decade ago, in 2015 having been brain-childed by the very distinguished and influential President of the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA) Dr Ruel J. Khoza. He shares in a particular interview that I have been graced to witness, that he had envisioned an internationally recognized Secondary School that specializes in the fields of Mathematics, Sciences, Technology and Accounting. An MSTA school that produces only the best from the best. Despite not having fully lived up to this vision Acorn to Oaks does uphold the integrity of its purpose as one of the best schools in the province, being known to produce at least one top learner provincially or nationally every year from 2017.

This is of course made possible by the passionate and devoted interdependent components of the school who foster teaching and learning at an elite degree year after year, i.e., the teachers, parents, and learners. The teachers are more serious about the learners’ futures than the learners even are, as is shown in their punctuality, arriving at school at 7:30 am sharp, Mondays through Saturdays, ready to do nothing but to work towards attaining excellent end-of-year results. Through their hard work and commitment in collaboration with the willingness of the learners to learn and develop themselves, coupled with the support from parents, the school has seen itself achieve the excellent culture of top-level performance such as it has today. Not of course forgetting the leadership role played by the hardworking principal of the school Mr S.R. Ramabubuda in, inter alia, ensuring the smooth running of the school. 

Why do you think some people have problems doing well in maths and science?

Mathematics and Science are not esoteric subjects that are only for the elite few who have somewhat of a special natural talent and capacity for them. Unfortunately, many learners in our education system have not fully come to embrace this fact and are still prone to thinking in line with the lingering lie that it is only for a few select people to discover the elation that comes with learning and enjoying maths and science. They do not see themselves ever getting good at these subjects because they have not developed a personal connection with them to get to perceive these two subjects as relevant to their lives. Another factor which can contribute to the aforementioned one is when teachers, who are in fact the first line of delivery can expose learners to these subjects from as early as pre-school, do not do so with passion and competence, and thus provide no proper foundation for the learner to romanticize and explore the fascinating world of math and science comfortably and intentionally.

What advice do you have for school learners who struggle with these subjects?

I speak only of that which worked for me; to master mathematics and science you need to practice solving more problems and answering questions on these subjects. For me, solving two past question papers is more beneficial than re-reading a whole chapter on the topic after class. It gets one exposed to the type of problems addressed by the information learned in class and the way in which one is expected to apply the knowledge acquired. This will distinguish an eighty per cent learner from one who obtains a hundred per cent- how many past problems each solved.

Furthermore, we live in the information age where we have access to educational content through the internet which fosters self-education. Whoever will be reading this has access to an internet connection which means they have access to arguably one of the biggest knowledge-providing platforms in our world – YouTube. As such they can go beyond the classroom and engage with online videos to help aid their learning. For those who do not have access to such tools, I would encourage them to use their teachers and any other person around them who is competent in the fields of interest, be inquisitive and nag the right people for information.

Any tips for learners in grades 11 and 12?

The best advice I can give to the grade 11s and 12s is what was given to me by the founder of my school Dr Ruel Khoza. In his words, “Work hard, work smart and put in the hours”. These words have been a reverberating echo in my heart from grade 9 and I have cherished them every time I sit at my desk to study. Working hard means being excellent, going beyond the personal limits to attain the mental picture of one’s success. Working smart means strategically setting up systems in place and developing routines that will continually aid one’s efforts and ultimately lead to achieving one’s goals. These routines are what will keep one focused, disciplined, and inspired towards the vision. From as little as spending time every day to solve one higher-order math question to taking time to ask the teacher questions during break time. These things may seem trivial, however they all amalgamate into one admirable whole at the end when harvest season comes.

What advice do you have for matriculants who have to apply for places in higher education institutions?

I exhort them to begin applying as early as now. Many South African Higher Education Institutions open for applications around April and some from as early as March, so it is now opportune to send in their applications. Some faculties require that applicants write the National Benchmark Test (NBT) hence I would advise matriculants to find out if their faculty is one of such and write the NBT as soon as possible. It is important that they treat it as if it were the final exam as it can be the determining factor for distinguishing those who get conditional acceptance and those who get put on the waiting list. Lastly, if any matriculant aspires to go and study abroad they ought to sharpen their academic CVs. The competition is high however not impossible to beat. They should get involved in extracurricular activities such as sports or public speaking which will contribute to their desirability to be enrolled in one of such overseas programmes and complete the relevant applications.

Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

There are many cardinal principles that constitute what we call an achiever – one who attains something. And one of such principles would be discipline, which I define as stickability to the commitment to achieving your goals. Can you keep yourself from sticking your hand into the cookie jar when no one is watching? If yes, then you are the perfect candidate for success. All that is required now is to set up a system of intricately devised activities that will work synergistically to propel you towards your goals, whenever you feel like it or do not feel like it, keep performing that very thing which may not feel good to you, but it is good for you. Nice guys do not win in our world, success needs people with bulldog tenacity and that means once you discover something that works for you, you do not go easy on it and do not let a day go by without having exercised that particular principle, so as to see yourself produce results always.

A message to South African youth in general?

In this day and age, it is about what one knows, what one can bring to the table that somebody else cannot, after all, people are fired for their similarities and hired for their differences. I, therefore, encourage every South African young man and woman to become a specialist in their fields, to pursue knowledge that concerns them and their area of practice, not just to be a “jack of all trades and a master of none” but instead to make it their mission that no one will be better than them at what they do. This will enable them to compete on a global scale and then to use their specialised knowledge to solve the problems surrounding them and their society, starting from their communities and then the whole world.

If you had ONE opportunity to speak directly to a very influential person, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

If I had a chance to speak face-to-face with a person of impact, it would have to be the late Dr Myles Munroe [Bahamian evangelist and ordained minister, professor, author, speaker and leadership consultant, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the International Third World Leaders Association, and president of the International Leadership Training Institute] because of his words of wisdom. I would ask him to tell me what he perceives as the single most important lesson to learn in life.

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